Participating in The Colour of Difference: Long Term Outcomes

This piece was written for the Benevolent Society: Post Adoption Resource Centre newsletter. Their centre provides post adoption support to adoptees in New South Wales (NSW), Australia.

In the late 1990s, I was in my mid 20s and searching for support as an adoptee born overseas, outside of Australia. At that time, I didn’t even have the language to understand how adoption had affected me, I only knew that I had struggled and was reaching out to try and find support somewhere. I came across the Post Adoption Resource Centre (PARC) in my search but I had initially tried the AA type programs, thinking there must be an “Adoptees Anonymous” somewhere to join into. There wasn’t, so when I found PARC led by Sarah Armstrong, I went and joined in with one of their adoptee days where you meet face to face and talk. PARC took us through guided sessions. I found it really useful but the biggest thing I noticed was there was nothing discussing looking different to one’s family/community, nothing on searching and returning to an overseas country, and certainly nothing on racism or the issues I lived as a person of colour adopted into a white society. So I spoke to the PARC team afterwards and asked if there was anything available more specific to my experience. I didn’t even know the term “intercountry adoption” then. All I knew was that I enjoyed meeting the adoptees but they were all born in Australia except me. So I still felt different and quite alone. I enquired about whether there were other adoptees like me reaching out to PARC. They told me yes, occasionally. I said, “Well if you ever run something for us, I’d love to know about it and if you have those adoptees wanting to connect to someone like them, pleas share them my name and contacts.”

And so some time later, PARC did followup and contact me. They asked me if I wanted to be involved in their new book project where we as transracial adoptees could share our stories to help people better understand our lived experience. I said of course and I jumped at the opportunity. I remember trying to figure out what I’d write about, but once I started, it all flowed.

It was quite a lengthy process to get our book project published, finished, and launched. I think it was around 3 years from start to end? But during that process I ended up being honoured to meet the fellow adoptees who also shared in our book, The Colour of Difference. Participating in the book changed my life and PARC had been sharing my name/contacts to adoptees just like me, so over time, once the project finished, I made up my mind that I would volunteer and continue on from the connections we had made, to form a network to support each other.

So from the almost 30 adoptees from the project and those early days, I built what was then known as the InterCountry Adoptee Support Network (ICASN). We focused on sharing our stories, connecting to each other, and meeting face to face in capital cities. We had State Representatives to facilitate social contact and Country of Origin Representatives to help adoptees with their birth country specific resources and needs. From those early days we connected in closely with the various post adoption organisations around Australia and participated in education events, utilising our lived experience to help inform the future adoptions.

The book had also been part of the funding from the NSW Department of Community Services (DoCS) headed up by March Griffin at the time. I connected with Mary Griffin and her team of social workers and ended up being asked to speak and share my story to their team for training. It was the most vulnerable day of my life but the lovely PARC social worker, Petrina Slaytor came with me as my support and I told my story for the first time to people who were not adoptees, but professionals. Wow, it was such an empowering experience to receive their validation and encouragement to keep doing what I was doing – sharing my story, connecting to fellow adoptees, providing a peer support space. I still have the lovely Petrina and Mary in my life today and they have been some of my most incredible supports throughout my life.

In 2014, after having a couple of years of break due to having my own young family, I decided to continue on from ICASN and to refocus and rename it InterCountry Adoptee Voices (ICAV). This was to reflect the new focus from not just peer support, but to now begin actively advocating at government levels for our needs and rights and to ask that our voices be included in all policy and legislation discussions. I could no longer ignore the very visible global issues I heard daily, after having hundreds of adult intercountry adoptees join into ICASN from all over the world. I realised I was definitely not alone in my journey but that our experiences were replicated all over the world for intercountry adoptees.

In 2016, during government consultation at Federal level, my idea of having a follow on book was taken up by our Australian government. They funded a sequel to our book The Colour of Difference, via International Social Services (ISS) Australia who had been funded to provide our much needed Search and Reunion service. In 2017, we launched the followup book, The Colour of Time to demonstrate how our stories changed over the 15 year time span since we published The Colour of Difference.

Fast forward to today in 2022, ICAV is now representing on behalf of intercountry adoptees from all over the world at international levels – The Hague and the United Nations (UN). We are advocating for our rights and needs and we are ensuring our voices are included in policy and legislation discussions that determine the future of other intercountry adoptees. Recently, I address the UN Committees on the topic of illegal and illicit adoptions from lived experience. It is such an honour to be working in collaboration with so many intercountry adoptees from all over the world.

So from a book project that PARC initiated 24 years ago, ICAV has grown to become one of the leading intercountry adoptee advocacy networks in the world.

Who would have thought that connecting into PARC, sharing my story in the book The Colour of Difference, would have made such an impact on me, and then flow onto all the adoptees who have joined into ICAV today. What a ripple effect! 

Huge thanks to PARC for making this all possible! And I’m so excited to see our book being printed again and made available in hardcopy! It’s incredible to hear from adoptive parents of the newer generations who share with me what a difference it has made for them and their adoptee to read our books, The Colour of Difference, The Colour of Time, which helps to normalise our journey and educate those who want to better understand our lived experience.

To obtain a hard copy of these books, you can contact:
PARC for The Colour of Difference;
or ICAV for The Colour of Difference and/or The Colour of Time.


What’s the Future of Intercountry Adoption?

This was presented by Lynelle Long at the Child Identity Protection (CHIP) Webinar on Friday 18 Feb, 2022, the topic of the webinar was: Respecting the Child’s Right to Identity in Intercountry Adoption (at 2:49:30 on the video recording).

In my humble perspective, I believe the future of intercountry adoption is slowly coming to its death. I am personally happy about this, as are a vast number of adult intercountry adoptees around the world. I recognise though that not all adoptees agree with my happiness nor want to see the end of intercountry adoption. The argument they pose is probably that we have gained and benefited much and why should we stop others from having the same?

I argue that we are actively robbing countries of their most valuable resource – their children – when we take advantage, with our privilege and resources, to gain from their vulnerabilities. We need to do better – do what’s ethically right, when we know in hindsight that the random positive outcomes do not justify the huge amount of trauma that has been inflicted on so many.

We have seen some countries in Europe start to take responsibility by independently investigating the history of intercountry adoption and come to terms with the wrongs done to so many. COVID has also created a natural dampener to the trade in children, but the efforts of intercountry adoptees and our allies has been building over the past decades to culminate into a worldwide recognition that intercountry adoption as a social experiment, has not been as successful as many hoped for.

If I were to ask myself what I think the future of intercountry adoption looks like, I couldn’t lie and pretend to uphold the fantasy so many seem to have with adoption. From the lived perspective, too many of us intercountry adoptees have struggled and suffered life long consequences of being robbed of our origins, our kin, our country, culture, and language .. it is time we take an honest and critical look at what intercountry adoption truly does. It is the ONLY alternative care option that proactively severs our right to identity and family relations — except in the cases of a few countries (Vietnam, Belgium and France) who allow Simple adoption to exist .. but in reality, it is extremely rare to have a Simple intercountry adoption. 

I can only gauge the future and what it brings, from where we have shifted and moved in the past 24 years that I’ve been actively involved. I have seen the massive change that my adoptee community has undergone in the 24 years I’ve been involved:

  • From being completely isolated from each other, to massively connected now!
  • From being in the fog, to totally awakened to the reality of the structures that have created our lives.
  • From relying on dodgy fabricated paperwork, to embracing DNA technology because it doesn’t lie.
  • From not wanting to engage in the politics, to now fully engaging and seeking / demanding engagement with government and authorities.
  • From not understand our rights, to now finding pathways to uphold our rights through the laws and demanding justice and reparation. 

This is what excites me the most .. seeing the many adoptees demanding justice who are inspired by the success of the pioneers before them – adoptees like Patrick Noordoven who have fought the lack of legal pathway, studied the laws, faced the courts and created a legal pathway to demand justice and access to our truth – our right to identity. We need more of this to happen en-masse around the world!

Then what we are starting to see right now, in the past few years, is that some governments are recognising that they need to better protect themselves because they are realising they are participating in an activity and system that actively robs us of our rights – our rights to identity, origins and family. Once more governments realise the risk they bear, I believe we will see intercountry adoption become almost non existent because it’s too risky, too costly!

Intercountry adoption has always been about money: who has it, who doesn’t, who doesn’t want to lose it, who can’t afford to take the risk. While the risk in intercountry adoption was once historically gauged as low, governments and authorities supported the demand for children – but the tide on that sentiment has turned and there is no going back! I do believe one day we will look back historically on this huge social experiment called intercountry adoption and it will eventually be acknowledge on a global scale, that it was never in our best interests to be removed from our country, culture and origins and add to our traumas.

Hand in hand with this, I’m excited to see some governments start to recognise our adoptee needs and rights! In Australia we’ve been one of the few countries to be given a funded free mental health counselling service and we had a free search n reunion service. Both of these should be a minimum and a mandatory service in all post adoption for every adopting and sending country. Some countries are talking to me about our Australian model and I know other countries are starting to provide either one or both of these services.

But while I celebrate the shifts in some progressive countries, let’s not forget our families of loss still barely have any rights, and usually no access to free counselling or a searching service. I hope in the future we will start to see this change. The voices of our families of origins is still largely unheard, ignored, denied. We have to change that!

I hope intercountry adoption will become only a last resort option, as originally intended under the The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

Recommended Reading

Patrick Noordoven’s Thesis: Intercountry Adoption and the Right to Identity

Lived Experience of Illegal and Illicit Adoption

Intercountry adoption is regulated by the 1993 Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. This convention was designed to protect the best interests of the child in intercountry adoption and prevent the abduction, trafficking or sale of children for intercountry adoption purposes.

While it is impossible to calculate exactly how many illegal and illicit adoptions have occurred into Australia, we do know we have specific cohorts of adoptees here from various countries. Ethiopia and India were the most recent countries where our programs closed due to irregularities. Our early history in the 1980s includes trafficked adoptees from Taiwan where Julie Chu was convicted of falsifying paperwork and sentenced to prison for her role as leader of the Taiwan trafficking ring.

Globally, in February this year the Netherlands suspended its intercountry adoption program due to its historic illegal and illicit adoptions. Other European countries such as Switzerland, Sweden, and Belgium have all taken steps to carefully examine their historic adoptions.

What will Australia’s response be to our own history of illicit and illegal intercountry adoptions? Australian policy makers are currently grappling with this question and the implications. For this purpose, ISS Australia and InterCountry Adoptee Voices (ICAV) are pleased to present our free webinar on this sensitive and complex topic with a focus on the voices of those with lived experience. We hope to help educate about the experience from lived perspective, how it impacts, and what impacted people want to see policy makers and professionals take into consideration.

This webinar took place on 10 November 2021 titled Lived Experience of Illegal and Illicit Adoption. We bring you Australian specific lived experience, however, this can be extrapolated to the global arena.

A huge thank you to our panelists: Professor David Smolin, Kimbra Butterworth-Smith, Annita Pring, Clement Lam (as read by his daughter, Marie Gardom).

  • Professor David Smolin is a professor of law at Cumberland School of Lawin Birmingham, Alabama. He is also the Harwell G. Davis Chair in Constitutional Law and director for the Centre for Children, Law, and Ethics. Professor Smolin is a world leading expert on illegal and illicit intercountry adoption and has written and spoken extensively on this topic. He has also been personally impacted by illegal and illicit intercountry adoption.
  • Kimbra Butterworth-Smith has experience working in humanitarian NGOs in Australia and abroad. She is also an intercountry adult adoptee from Taiwan whose adoption was facilitated illegally by Julie Chu.
  • Annita Pring is an Australian adoptive mother to a Thai son.
  • Clement Lam Swee Seng is a retired counsellor in marriage, youth and drug addiction ministry in Malaysia. He also is a Chinese father of loss to a daughter who was sent abroad and adopted into a British adoptive family. Clement has only recently been reunited with his daughter.

Many thanks to my co-presenters at ISS Australia, CEO Peter van Vliet and Deputy CEO Damon Martin.

Reference to the investigation other countries have done already, can be found in the resources list for this past blog: Governments Finally Recognising Illicit and Illegal Adoption Practices.

Governments Finally Recognising Illicit and Illegal Intercountry Adoption Practices

This is one common scenario, it doesn’t cover children overtly stolen from hospitals and many other ways

I’m an adoptee remaining hopeful

I’m very excited and feeling hopeful after hearing Belgium’s recent news, that their Minister has announced his intention to ask Parliament to suspend all adoptions for the next 2 years as a result of their investigation into intercountry adoptions.

Surrounded by incredible adoptee leaders around the world, I know how much effort has gone into getting intercountry adoptee rights to where we are today. News like this does not in any way solve or fix the issues we face but it is at least the beginning of having recognition of the wrongs done — with governments and authorities stepping up to confront the truth that we’ve been talking about for decades. Acknowledgement is the first step of many!

Belgium isn’t the first adoptive country to do so. The Netherlands announced their moratorium on all intercountry adoptions earlier this year in February and published their report. Switzerland announced their report from investigating past practices relating to Sri Lankan adoptions and they are being urged to provide reparation to the victims. Sweden also announced their intention to investigate their illegal intercountry adoptions. And yesterday, the Belgium Minister announced his recommendations to be considered by Parliament. You can read here the full Expert Panel report.

But for some countries we still have work to do

It seems that finally some governments are listening to our lived experience and have decided to no longer turn a blind eye. But even though these 4 have listened, I want to also remind you that there has been much work and years of effort gone into other countries who still haven’t come to the “acknowledgement table”. In France, the adoptees there have had huge support in their petition to have the French Parliament conduct an investigation into their historic intercountry adoptions. In Denmark, the adoptees from Chile have been working with the government to have their adoptions investigated.

In my adoptive country Australia, I have been speaking out and advocating for supports for impacted adoptees and families and for recognition of the abuses in Australia for many years. In fact, it’s been over a decade already and I remember in my early years representing adoptees at NICAAG where Julia Rollings (adoptive mum) and I tabled this issue at the beginning in 2008 and asked that the issue be addressed. More recently, I have also presented a small group of 8 impacted adoptees to meet with our Central Authority, DSS in 2017 asking for very specific supports. However, to this day, those adoptees have still been ignored and dismissed. Despite having very clear cases of illegal activity where perpetrators have been criminally convicted and jailed (e.g., the Julie Chu cohort in image below from Taiwan), nothing has been offered for the adoptees or their families to help them deal with the extra complexities of their illegal adoptions. It’s as if these impacted adoptees don’t exist and Australia hopes the problem will fade away while they face far more important issues, like COVID-19 or an upcoming election.

It is time authorities around the world step up and take responsibility for the processes and structures that ruptured our lives via adoption – for good and for bad. 

Intercountry adoption has followed the path of domestic adoption

In intercountry adoption, we are seeing the same pattern where country after country the governments are acknowledging the wrongs in their domestic adoptions. Canada leads the way by providing financial compensation to their victims of the Sixties Scoop. Australia has already provided a formal apology for the women and babies who were impacted under the Forced Adoption era — but are still as yet to be offered any form of compensation. Australia also just announced their compensation for the Indigenous Aboriginals who were forcibly removed and placed into white families under the Stolen Generation. It is interesting that the Australian government can acknowledge these past practices but doesn’t recognise the very close similarities with our historic intercountry adoptions. Ireland as a government has only this year recognised the wrongs and provided a formal apology to the mothers and children who suffered in Babies Homes from forced adoptions. Ireland is also baulking at offering compensation.

What about our birth countries?

Very few of our birth countries involved in our illicit and illegal adoptions have taken any action either. Guatemala, Ethiopia and Russia are the main ones that come to my memory where they stopped all intercountry adoptions because of irregularities — but they too have failed to provide impacted adoptees with services or compensation to recognise the wrongs done to them. Some of them have sentenced perpetrators but their sentence rarely ever matches the depths of their crime.

Let’s have a quick overview at how perpetrators have been sentenced to date:

The more recent is the first sentence for the American local politician involved with the Marshall Island women who received only 6 years imprisonment. Cambodian adoption ring leader Lauryn Galindo got 18 months in prison, her crime was only visa fraud and laundering money. The Samoan adoption scam perpetrators were sentenced a mere 5 years on probation, for aiding and abetting improper entry of an alien. We are still awaiting sentencing of the perpetrators involved with the Ugandan and Polish schemes for arranging adoptions through bribery and fraud.

In Vietnam, the ring leader received a 4.5 yr sentence for falsifying documents. Taiwan sentenced Julie Chu and her cohorts to a life time imprisonment for masterminding a baby exporting syndicate but she got off lightly after appealing and only served a mere 6 years. In China, child traffickers who abduct and sell children are executed. This response remains the harshest I’ve seen but life imprisonment seems reasonable given their actions impact us for our lifetime.

That the majority of perpetrators in intercountry adoption get away with mild convictions demonstrates the lack of legal framework to protect us. And despite the fact that very few perpetrators in intercountry adoption are ever caught, let alone sentenced, one still has to ask, where is the support for the victims?

The American Samoan Adoptees Restitution Trust is the ONLY restorative justice program I’ve come across, establishing a fund provided by the perpetrators to facilitate connection to birth family and country. But the funds provided have been extremely limiting considering how many people are impacted and out of those impacted adoptees, only 1 was enabled to return to their natural family. Have governments even considered whether intercountry adoptees wish to be repatriated back to their birth country?

What level of responsibility should governments bear?

Many articles have been written about the problems in intercountry adoption via the irregularities in processing us for intercountry adoption, but the most critical issue that governments need to respond to, is our right to identity.

A recent report (see Section 4) by Child Identity Protection (CHIP), highlights the level of responsibility States should play in helping us find our original identities and seek redress.

“Article 8 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) notes that a child has a right to identity including a name, a nationality and family relations. Whenever a child is deprived of one of these elements, States have an obligation to restore the child’s identity speedily. At the heart of any intercountry adoption (ICA) is the modification of a child’s identity given at birth.” — CHIP

I’d like to ask every government who is a signatory of UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, just what are they doing to “speedily restore our original identity”? All these investigations in European countries are a necessary part of the process to review and look in-depth at what has gone on. But .. the steps taken to halt adoptions does not provide any sweetness for us victims. There are hundreds and thousands of us around the world. What do we want? All you have to do is have a read of our collation of responses which I distributed at The Hague Working Group on Preventing and Addressing Illicit Practices in Adoption, a little over 1 year ago.

In summary our report explains what the majority of us want. We each independently submitted our thoughts without knowing what the other was submitting. Here are the top 3 suggestions we raised :

  • A change to intercountry adoption laws to ensure a legal framework exists for which illicit practices can be prosecuted against. Currently there is none.
  • An independent investigative body so we aren’t expecting the governments and adoption authorities to “investigate” themselves. Currently that’s what happens.
  • Fully funded support services for victims. Currently there are huge gaps in general post adoption supports let alone supports specific to being trafficked. Not one country in the world currently provides any sort of trafficking support for adoptees or their families — both adoptive and natural, but especially for natural families who rarely have a voice on the global arena.

I observe the Netherlands who are still working on their National Centre of Expertise might be including support services specific to trafficking victims, so too it appears from the Belgium report they are trying. But supports for trafficking victims needs to be comprehensive not just a DNA or a general counselling service. In our report, we list in full what this support needs to include: legal aid; counselling; financial aid; funded lived experience support groups; family tracing; DNA testing and professional genealogy services; travel support; language classes; translation services; mediation services; culture and heritage supports.

Why can’t adoption be a “happily ever after” story?

People mistakenly think that intercountry adoptees have to be unhappy in their adoption to want to fight for justice. It is not true.

We can be happy in our adoptive life and country but also be unhappy with how our adoptions were conducted and rightfully expect that everything be done to restore our original identities and help us to reconnect with our natural families who have lost us via intercountry adoption.

Our voices have been fighting for decades for our right to origins, to make amends for our lost identity, to have the illicit and illegal intercountry adoptions recognised for what they are – the commodification of children. We need this crazy system to stop, it’s been going on for too long. We are not a small number, estimates vary but we definitely are in the hundreds of thousands globally and possibly a few million.

It’s time for the truth and hopefully long term, we might see some reparative and restorative justice for us and our families. In the meantime, myself and fellow adoptee leaders continue to work hard for our communities globally! Onward and upward! I hope one day to be able to write about our “happily ever after” story, once we get justice and recognition for the wrongs done.

Other Resources

Impact Awareness Campaign (video) led by Critical Adoptees From Europe (CAFE), Belgium

Finding Humanity podcast Separated: The Ethics of Adoption

Patrick Noordoven: Intercountry Adoption and the Right to Identity

David Smolin: The Case for Moratoria on Intercountry Adoption

To auto translate any of the following resources, open in Google Chrome browser.

Netherlands

No New Adoptions from Abroad for the Time Being
Netherlands Halts all Adoptions Abroad with Immediate Affect
Minister Dekker Suspends Intercountry Adoption with Immediate Effect
Dutch Freeze International Adoptions after Abuses Uncovered
Dutch Report (English)

Switzerland

International Adoptions Report (French, German, Italian)
Adoptions from Sri Lanka: the Federal Council Regrets the Negligence of the Authorities
Press Conference by the Minister (German)
Press release by Sri Lankan adoptee org Back to the Roots (English) in French
Abducted Sri Lankan Children Adopted in Switzerland

Belgium

Wouter Beke Argues for a General Adoption Break, but immediately receives Criticism
Minister Beke wants Adoption Break to Thoroughly Review the Sector
Minister Beke wants a General Adoption Break due to “Mistakes” and “Malpractice”: What is Going on?
Flanders Plans “at least 2 Years Break” from International Adoptions
Expert Panel Report is Ready
Expert Panel Final Report

To Know Your Origins is a Privilege!

To know your parents, siblings, uncles, aunts, and grandparents …

To know your medical history; whether your mother died of cancer, your father suffered heart problems, whether your grandmother had diabetes …

To know who you look like, where your traits come from, whether your face in the mirror is a reflection of someone else ..

To know your birth story, date, time, season of the year, what hospital you were born in …

To know your country of birth, culture, heritage, language, customs, religion …

To be surrounded by people who look like you racially …

To know your origins is a privilege!

These are the things I don’t take for granted because I didn’t have any of these whilst growing up. I was born in one country, adopted to another, by a family of different race. I’m a transracial intercountry adoptee. I’ve spent a huge portion of my life wondering, searching, trying to learn about my origins.

In my community of intercountry adoptees – to know your origins is definitely a privilege!

Why do Intercountry Adoptees want to know their Origins?

The desire to know my origins is an innate and fundamental human need (and right).

My need to know my origins is akin to your need to breath air that keeps you alive.

Breath of Air by Tim Kakandar

We only know our origins are important when we don’t have it, or access to it. For people like me, this is our daily lived experience!

As an intercountry adoptee, I live my whole life trying to find who I come from and why I was given up / stolen.

It’s really hard to know how to go forward in life if I don’t know how and why I came to be in this unnatural situation. 

My life did not start at adoption! I have a genetic history, generations of people before me who contributed to who I am.

We cannot pretend in this world of adoption and family formation that genetics does not matter, it does – significantly; I am not a blank slate to be imprinted upon; there are consequences to this pretence and it shows in the statistics of our higher rates of adoptee youth suicide!

One of most shared experiences amongst adoptees whom I connect with, is the topic of “feeling all alone”, “like an alien” and yet human beings are not meant to be isolated. We are social beings desiring connection.

Separation from my natural origins and the knowledge of these, left me disconnected and lost in a fundamental way.

My life has been spent trying to reconnect – firstly with my inner self, then with the outer self, and with those around me, searching for a sense of belonging.

As an adoptee, I can be given all the material things in the world but it did not fix the hole that my soul feels, when it has nowhere and no-one to belong to, naturally.

My substitute family did not equate to a natural sense of belonging.

I searched for my origins because my innate feelings and experience of isolation and loss drove me to find where I came from and to make sense of how I got to be here.

This was shared by Lynelle Long at the 1 July Webinar: Child’s Right to Identity in Alternative Care.

Lifelong Impacts of Identity Loss

On 1 July, I was asked to speak as part of a webinar panel for the Transforming Children’s Care Webinar Series #4: Child’s Right to Identity in Alternative Care. We had an amazing panel of experts, moderated by Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, President of Child Identity Protection (CHIP), and hosted by the Better Care Network in partnership with CHIP.

I was asked to speak about the lifelong impacts of identity loss. So I shared my story and some statements from fellow adoptees to highlight our experience.

My Story

 I am one of these children who has not had my identity protected. Children like me, grow up. We don’t stay children forever – and we can have opinions and thoughts about the structures, processes, policy and legislations that impact us and create our lives. I am honoured to be asked to represent just one small group of us with lived experience, that the forum represents as “children from alternative care options”.

I was adopted from Vietnam during the war in 1973. The war ended in April 1975. My adoptive father flew into the country while it was still at war and flew me out as a 5 month old baby. My papers were supposed to follow but they never arrived and my adoption was not finalised.

I lived for almost 17 years in Australia without an identity. It was the family joke that I made the perfect spy because I didn’t exist. I was keenly aware of not existing and having no paperwork – it made me feel insecure, insignificant, unseen.

The practical impacts of not having any identity papers for 17 years were that I could not apply for a passport and travel outside Australia, I could not get my drivers licence, I could not apply for anything like a bank account and, more importantly, I was not followed up on since arriving in the country by any child welfare authority nor the adoption agency. 

Finally when I was 16 years old, I wanted to get my drivers licence so my adoptive parents were finally propelled to take action. They went though the adoption process again, this time through the State not a private agency, and my adoption was formalised just before I turned 17 years old.

I was given a brand new Australian identity. It does not state my Vietnamese identity only recognises the country that I was born in, Vietnam.

Via this 17-year-late process of intercountry adoption, was there an official check for any of my identity documents in Vietnam? Or a check to confirm my adoptability or relinquishment? These questions remain unanswered for me. I was certainly never offered other options like having help to look for my origins in Vietnam .. I was only ever told that being adopted was THE solution so I’d be able to exist and have some sort of identity. 

In my mid 20s – 30s, I spent over a decade trying to obtain my identity and adoption papers from Vietnam. Via my ICAV network, I came across an ex-policeman who had helped a few other Vietnamese adoptees. He somehow found what appears to be a Vietnamese birth certificate, and he took a blurry photo and sent it to me.

When I traveled to Vietnam in 2019, I went to the place where that document was said to be kept, only to be told the usual story – a flood or natural disaster destroyed ALL paperwork from that whole year. They have nothing for me. I visited the hospital where I was apparently born, only to be told I could not access my mother’s file without her permission – what a vicious cycle! I visited the police station precinct where the stamp on the birth certificate identifies it is held, only to be also told they wouldn’t help me. I asked for help during my visit to the central authority of Vietnam and was told to fill out a form via the website — which is in Vietnamese, which I can’t read or write in. There are so many barriers to being able to access my identity. Language is a HUGE one!

I have since done a few DNA tests and had genealogists help me, but that hasn’t been too successful either. 

This struggle to find our identity, is very common for an intercountry adoptee like myself and is definitely worse for those of us who have been adopted out of a war torn or crisis filled country. In the rush to help “rescue” children like myself, processes are bypassed or sped up and vital information gets lost.

Our ICAV Community

Feeling isolated for most of my childhood, in my mid 20s I founded our international network ICAV that provides peer support to intercountry adoptees like myself who struggle just like I did. But I am only one voice amongst hundreds of thousands globally, so it’s important you hear more than just my voice! 

I asked the ICAV community to share with you what their lifelong impacts of identity loss are. I’m going to share with you just 8 out of the 50 responses to highlight some of their experiences:

Many thanks to those adoptees who were willing to share!

Within our ICAV community, we could write a few books about the lifelong impacts of identity loss, many have already. There are so many more complexities that I haven’t talked about such as twins being purposively separated for adoption (not being told they’re a twin and the extra layers of impact for them of identity loss); 2nd generation adoptees (children of adoptees) and their lack of access in legislation to their inherited identity; etc. I hope my short talk helped expand your mind from the theoretical to the lived experience which speaks so loudly about the importance of identity rights for communities such as mine.

You can watch the complete webinar here.

Equity and Inclusion in Social Media Spaces for Adoptees who are Differently Abled

by Lynelle Long (Founder of ICAV adopted from Vietnam to Australia) & Angela Bennett adopted from South Korea to the USA, living with different abilities.

Last year due to COVID, I ran a number of online video group events to allow our adoptee community some interaction given the restrictions and isolation around the world. Whilst doing this, I had the honour of Angela attending one of my events and I did not realise she is differently abled and during the group video discussion, I realised I needed to make accomodations to ensure all people could participate equally and with sensitivity. Some time after that event and in January this year, I collaborated with a few Australian intercountry adoptees to put together our first paper on lived experience of disability AND being intercountry adopted – in the context of a response to a Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect & Exploitation of People with Disability. It again reminded me to consider how I could help make our spaces more inclusive. So I wrote to Angela and asked her for feedback on what could be done better. I’m sure there are other leaders like myself who don’t mean to be un-inclusive, it’s more that if we don’t live with those differences we aren’t actually forced to think about HOW we might better accomodate others. Angela was very positive and helpful and I wanted to share her thoughts because I figured if I can learn from this, perhaps others can too.

Here’s what I wrote to Angela:

Angela, I wondered if you could give me some good thoughts/ideas on how to do things better for adoptees who are differently abled. I was so happy to have you participate in my last ICAV online event but I felt so out of my depth to provide it in a better way to allow you fully participate. I’m always happy to hear your views and suggestions on how I can improve!

Here’s what Angela wrote to me in response:

That last ICAV event was awkward for me. Inclusion for people with disability is a lot to undertake. I think it’s pretty awesome you want to try to tackle it. It looks different based on the disability.

I’d say for me with the speech impediment, I talk 3x slower than the average American. There’s nothing wrong with my intellect. There’s certain sounds or combination of sounds that is like mouth gymnastics. So be mindful to avoid cutting me off/interrupting to finish my sentence for me. It’s better to wait about three to five seconds to make sure I’m done speaking. I often have to pause to inhale for another set of words. Cutting me off just resets from the beginning. Because I talk slower, I feel like I’m long winded. I get needing to have time to let others speak. I often wait until others speak. This is because I’m trying to see if I can simply say, “I agree,” or “So-and-so made a good point, and I also think _,” and just go from there to do less talking.

When I’m done speaking and you’re facilitating/hosting, to benefit the others, you did good in repeating or paraphrasing my point. In your position I would just do that, but start with, “What I think you said, __, is that __. Am I understanding correctly? This helps the other adoptees who have a hard time deciphering my speech pattern and acknowledges in a kind polite way what I said. If you, yourself can’t understand using the following statements can be helpful: “I didn’t catch what you said after __” It’s hard to hear you, can you repeat that last sentence? Can you speak louder? I/we want to understand but not sure of what was said. Can you say it in a different way? I think you said, ‘porcupine,’ but I don’t know what you’re trying to say. Is that like the animal with spikes on it? (wait for response) Oh, you said concubine not porcupine! Ha ha, that makes much more sense now. I have no idea what you’re trying to say. What I think/heard/believe you’re saying is __? That doesn’t make sense. Do you mind clarifying?

I get winded so sometimes I pause mid-word, mid-sentence, mid-answer to take a breath and regain control of the different muscles needed to speak. Sometimes this could be the diaphragm, sometimes the vocal cords, sometimes it’s my tongue and saliva control. It doesn’t hurt to speak, but it can sometimes quickly tire me.

If you’re video/audio recording an adoptee with speech that is challenging to understand, I recommend providing closed captions or subtitles or at minimum a timestamped transcript. This brings the inclusiveness not just to someone with a speech delay or impediment, but brings inclusiveness to those who are deaf and hard of hearing.

I’ve only provided an answer in the context of someone with a speech delay, speech impairment. People often assume someone with speech problems have lower intellect. While it is predominantly true, it is not a safe assumption. Most of what I’ve said is a form of what is called “active listening.” One important thing is that there is a distinction between not hearing what someone says and not knowing/comprehending. Simply saying, “what?” suggests the speaker needs to repeat what they said, but louder.

My speech pattern often means I drop sounds and I’m not even aware of it. I know English has a lot of silent sounds to begin with. But I drop out sounds that I have trouble forming or combining. So I might drop the “s” from thanks even unaware that I dropped the ‘s’ sound because most of my effort went to making the “th” sound. I know the words, I just have to get everything to work together to verbalise.

If you want me to type in chat, circle back around. I type fast, but I mouse slow. You can say something like, “I’d love to know what you think Angela. Do you want to answer or should we come back and check the chat in a couple minutes? Then maybe you can use a strategic stall tactic and say, “I want to add my own thoughts here for a minute.”

Avoid cross talk. Cross talk is rude. Short example was the post you responded to which I wrote about on my FB wall. The driver was talking about me to my friend. I was right there. The statement itself is rude, but the more important thing is that not only was he stereotyping someone who uses a wheelchair, but stereotyping that I am not capable of carrying on a conversation. When things like that happen I have no way of knowing if this is someone not comprehending my speech patterns, or he/she has a hearing problem, or if they are discriminating against me, if they have listening problems, if they are stereotyping my speech and assuming I am not intelligent/educated enough, or if it’s a microaggression based on something else like culturally am I not supposed to speak on my own behalf because of racism towards Asian females. I heard a parent explain it to her child once. “There’s nothing wrong with the way she is talking to us. She talks differently and it means we have to listen more closely to what she says.”

During a conversation you can even ask, “Do you want to add anything and/or did you have more to say?” Silently moving your own mouth to mimic someone else talking while they are talking is mildly rude and annoying for long conversations, but it’s not significantly offensive generally speaking.

Even persons with disabilities have ableist ideas against someone else with a disability. Much like the adoptee community has its ideas of “adoption is good” v. “adoption is corruption” even in local disabled groups …. I recently went to a popular sports bar. I asked the waitstaff for closed captions to be turned on the tv. The waitstaff didn’t want to figure it out unless someone in our group was deaf. So the group leader shushed me. I was appalled because it felt like the group leader who is paralysed was not being mindful of someone with a different disability and that was the whole point, to be a social support group.

I’d love to see and am also willing to assist with developing a media/guide for intercountry adoptees with disability or even more of a series of stories from adoptees with disability themselves.

Thank you Angela for sharing from your lived experience to help us do better!

Family and Xmas Times

This is the one time of year where I’m reminded I don’t have that childhood family with amazing memories and closeness. I’ve always yearned, as only some other adoptees can know, for that sense of family where I feel wanted, cherished, loved deeply. I know my family, like many others, are never perfect, but the older I get, the more I see my childhood in my adoptive family and can only remember the pain it created for me. Adoption is supposed to be happy isn’t it? It’s what gets portrayed. But I know I had spurts of moments of happiness in mine — it’s so hard to recall because as I grow older and relive it all again via children of my own, I realise the level of neglect and trauma my adoptive family caused, that could have been avoided.

How do I get past it? Should I? Or do I accept it will just always be … yes it hurts beneath the surface, oozing with pain every time I have to think about “adoptive family”. I’m old enough now to understand this pain is part of who I am. It’s not going away but I can hold and honour what I’ve had to do, to come past it —to be functional, stable, loving.

Healing doesn’t mean the pain stops and goes away. Healing means I’ve come to accept the truth. I no longer sit in it drowning or reacting. I’ve learned better ways to manage my emotions. I’ve learned how to have boundaries and not give past what I’m willing to. I’ve learned it’s ok to remain true to my own needs. I’ve learned to accept what can’t be changed but to change what I can. I can accept them as they are and know they’re not capable, even if they wanted. I have to give it to me, myself. Love, connection, acceptance, nurturing. 

Xmas, like Thanksgiving for Americans, is a time where as an adoptee, I feel those sad feelings for what I might have had but didn’t. I know the reality of reunions is that even bio family, if I ever find them, will most likely never be able to meet my emotional need for “family” either. So, this Xmas, I will bring my children and husband close and treasure every moment I have with them for they are the only true family I will ever have! I am thankful I was able to heal enough to have a loving relationship and become a mother myself and give to my children what I never got. This has been my life’s blessing and will be my focus this Xmas!

Distorted Priorities

Not being granted Citizenship as an adoptee is like having a False Positive.

It has come to my attention that the US Senate and Congress members have recently been sending letters to push for their agenda in intercountry adoption. The first I attach here to Assistant Secretary Carl Risch requesting attention to recommit to one of the purposes of the Intercountry Adoption Act, “to improve the ability of the Federal Government to assist” families seeking to adopt children from other countries.

The second I attach here to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo requesting resources and focus to address the waiting families wanting to bring home their children with COVID restrictions.

While I appreciate the Senate and Congress members sentiments to get involved and highlight the importance of these issues, it frustrates me that on the one hand these letters are written, using all of the power between them as a collective, yet I have not seen such a letter to push for the Adoptee Citizenship Act 2019 (ACA). For the past 5 years, I know our dedicated intercountry adoptee leaders – Joy Alessi from Adoptee Rights Campaign and Kristopher Larsen at Adoptees For Justice and their teams have been working tirelessly, trying to get Senators and Congress people to support the much needed and overdue Adoptee Citizenship Act 2019 (ACA). We need enough Senators and Congress members to support the Adoptee Citizenship Act 2019 because there are gaps left from the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 that resulted in intercountry adoptees prior to 1983 being left without automatic citizenship.

I gotta ask the obvious question here: why won’t American politicians get behind the Adoptee Citizenship Act (ACA) yet they will use their political force to push for more adoptions? It is the very same Intercountry Adoption Act 2000 that’s cited by them to get support amongst the Federal Government to assist newly desiring adoptive families to build their families, but yet – for the historic families who once sought to adopt children, who find themselves decades later, without citizenship for their children (now adults) – there is no permanence and no political leadership to address the problem. Isn’t it rather distorted that the powers to be will focus more attention on getting new children in without having made sure the ones already here, have stability, permanence and citizenship? What is adoption if it isn’t to ensure permanence, which is fundamentally about citizenship in intercountry adoption? Let’s also not forget every beneficiary of the Adoptee Citizenship Act (ACA) was already vetted at entry and promised citizenship. The Adoptee Citizenship Act (ACA) seeks to cover adoptees who entered on adoption purposed visas (IR4) otherwise known as legal permanent residents.

I feel for my adoptee colleagues who work tirelessly, pushing what feels like an uphill battle to gain the support needed to address this long overdue issue. Why aren’t letters like this being written to ICE or USCIS and to all the top level government officials including the President, who have the connections to influence these important decisions?

I don’t have the answers to my questions, I simply ask them because I hope others are too. We need Senators and Congress members to take leadership on the issue of automatic citizenship for the thousands of intercountry adoptees, now adults, who are living in suspended animation. These adoptees have been asking American leaders to represent their cause and help them overcome what feels like an insurmountable barrier – to be considered rightful citizens of their adoptive country. This right seems to be obtainable in every other adopting country – except the United States of America!

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